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Danish spy agencies on trial over undercover agent claims

Ahmed Samsam was jailed after a Madrid trial which convicted him of fighting for Islamic State
— Copenhagen (AFP)

Denmark's spy agencies went on trial on Thursday in a unique lawsuit brought by a Dane who claims he was an undercover informant for Denmark in Syria but wound up in prison over alleged IS group ties.

In a case that has proven embarrassing for the intelligence services and politicians, Samsam, a Danish national of Syrian origin, claims he was working for Danish intelligence in Syria in 2013 and 2014, spying on foreign jihadist fighters.

He is insistent that he was never a member of the Islamic State (IS), but in 2018 Spanish courts found him guilty of fighting for the jihadist group.

"The question is whether the intelligence agencies have to be required to recognise this cooperation," the lawyer for 34-year-old Ahmed Samsam, Erbil Kaya, told the Copenhagen court in a high-security courtroom.

The Danish secret service PET and military intelligence service FE have insisted they cannot confirm the identities of their informants.

"To do so would harm their ability to speak to sources, to protect them and prevent terrorism," their defence lawyer Peter Biering told the court.

"It's a question of national security."

Several investigations by Danish media since then have backed Samsam, concluding he never joined IS.

Wearing a black hoodie and sweatpants, Samsam appeared concentrated but relaxed during Thursday's proceedings.

At one point he combed his hair, and spoke with his mother and sister during a break.

- Long criminal record -

Samsam, who has a long criminal record, travelled to Syria in 2012 of his own accord to fight the regime.

Danish authorities investigated him after his return but did not press charges.

He claims he was then sent to the war zone on several occasions with money and equipment provided by PET and later FE, according to Danish media outlets DR and Berlingske citing anonymous witnesses and money transfers to Samsam.

The investigative journalists are expected to be called as witnesses in the trial.

So far, Samsam appears to have won over public opinion.

"Most people in Denmark who have followed the case are probably now of the belief that Samsam was sent to Syria in agreement with the Danish intelligence services," Aarhus University law professor Lasse Lund Madsen said.

"I personally had it confirmed by sources in the intelligence world."

Parliament decided in February to have its investigative committee probe Samsam's claims, though the left-wing government is opposed to an inquiry.

Kaya told AFP prior to the trial that there is more to the case that will come out during the proceedings.

"He has been limited in telling his story. But now in court he will be able to tell everything."

- 'No miscarriage of justice' -

In 2017, threatened by Copenhagen thugs in a settling of scores unrelated to his trips to Syria, Samsam headed to Spain.

There, he was arrested by Spanish police, who were surprised to find pictures of him on Facebook posing with the IS flag.

Samsam was sentenced the following year to eight years in prison for having joined IS.

Since 2020 he has been serving his sentence -- reduced to six years -- in Denmark.

He is due to be released in two or three months, according to Kaya.

For Denmark's spy services, "our basic position is there has never been a miscarriage of justice. He is convicted rightly", defence lawyer Biering told AFP.

"He received eight years from the Spanish Supreme Court that quite explicitly said that even if he actually worked for the Danish intelligence services in 2013 or 2014, they had enough evidence disregarding that point to convict him."

For Samsam, an admission from the intelligence agencies that he was working for them would make it possible for him to seek to have his Spanish conviction overturned.

"We are not seeking any damages or compensation right now," Kaya told AFP.

But they face a tough legal battle.

"It is not certain that Samsam will win the case, as the intelligence services are not obliged by law to confirm classified information," the law professor said.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on September 8.